Anakana Schofield – Award Winning Author of Bina, Martin John and Malarky

Cabbagetown — some considering

As I said I am challenged reading Juan Butler’s Cabbagetown. Cabbagetown — a documentary attempts to be a novel that depicts a place.

The woman Terry, the newly acquired live-in girlfriend of Michael, the main narrator who is writing the diary, is straight out of the weakest Sears pattern. She would not survive a gust if the door blew open. A construction from a male fantasy via a microwave oven. Such a woman would not survive 13 mins in Cabbagetown. But Michael knows better than her everytime he blinks his eyelid, he’s taken her number, excepting her number is ridiculous even beyond the standards of the ridiculous. She’s meek, mousie, her solution to everything is to whimper and sob and all she wants is him, him, him. Except the dude is a complete loser. He’s not uninteresting within that, but certainly not alluring. She lives her life in terror that he’ll throw her out of this miniscule rooming house they share or have shared for, a matter of days or weeks.

Women are always afraid to be alone in such male constructions. Yet ten minutes earlier she was practically living on the street. I remain perplexed as to why the gritty urban male writer immediately vaporizes when his pen approaches a woman. I’ve noticed this in novels published here in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s and wonder how can this be? Do/did they not know any women?

Given the entire novel is constructed around this dotty relationship through which we learn of place Cabbagetown this is trying on the nerves, but I muster on.

There’s several things that interest me about the book. The first is the depiction of people living on top of each other. The landlady lives above or in the same rooming house as the main narrator and he feels constantly watched by her and he constantly watches/remarks on her. This cramping of human space and lives into and inside lives is interesting.

There’s a section where Michael and Terry go to Bloor/Yonge Street. There’s this real sense they are visiting from Cabbagetown like a pair of aliens and this distance between the peoples in a city also interested me. That you can shift neighbourhood and feel like a visitor or a guest or be immediately displaced. Outside within per se.

Another aspect that works rather well is this character George who gives Michael books to read. One thing that’s noticeable in this book is the people are reading. George is some kind of earnest activist trying to plot an uprising in Cabbagetown of “direct action” intentions. He hands a manual on manufacturing terrorist materials to Michael to read and then asks his opinion on whether it would work in Cabbagetown. I like how he earnest but not of it, consults the man who is of the place on whether it would succeed. Again it’s within but not within. The other thing that works rather well are the reactions to George from the other residents of Cabbagetown. George also is the reason Michael writes the book since he encouraged him and told him he talked well and would write well. Michael, of course, needs permission from George to write. This is clear.

There’s also a rabid homophobia that the writer cleverly turns on its head. I have to go back to the book and add the parts here that I am talking about.

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